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Systemic Racism vs Residual Race Dynamics

An important distinction that drives how we fix the problem.

Systemic Racism vs Residual Race Dynamics
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Everyone knows that there is systemic racism against blacks in America. Except, that may not actually be the case. While racism does exist, and racism needs to be addressed, such racism is expressed by individuals, not the system. Instead, what first appears to be systemic racism is actually residual race dynamics. These two phenomena are extremely different, and how we deal with these two problems is just as dissimilar.

Dynamical Systems

So what do I mean by "residual race dynamics?" In order to explain this term, I need to first address some math concepts. Mathematics is not just something we learn to get through high school. It is a tool that we use to analyze and study reality, and it forms the foundation of science.

One topic of interest in mathematics is dynamical systems. The field is the study of systems that change. A system itself is roughly a collection of interconnected parts with a well defined boundary. For instance, the legal system, while connected to other systems, is a collection of parts with a defined boundary. The legal system is itself made up of a number of systems, including the law enforcement system.

Aside from a set of parts, a system also has states. A system may have only a few states, or it might have an infinite number of states. A system that changes state over time is a dynamical system. A good example is the population of a species in an ecosystem. This population may change over time. The population at any give moment is the system's state.

Feedback Loops

A very important concept in dynamical systems is feedback loops. These loops can amplify or dampen changes in states. Population growth is a good example. Even if the rate at which individuals are reproducing stays the same, as population grows, there are more individuals reproducing, which means that the overall number of new individuals born with each generation increases. It is this mechanism that results in exponential growth.

Positive feedback loops make states very unstable. Meanwhile, negative feedback loops can push against changing states, and make a state very stable. It can be very difficult to change the state of a system, when there's a negative feedback loop involved.

Feedback Loops in Socioeconomics

Exponential growth shows us just how powerful feedback loops can be. And feedback loops exist in socioeconomic dynamics. Poverty in one generation generally leads to poverty in the following generation. Crime and poverty are interconnected and feed each other. Poverty drives down education status, and low education status drives up crime.

The legal system is also stacked against the poor, who cannot afford a good attorney. Worse yet, prisons are not institutions of reform, but rather punishment. And punishment does not lead to improved outcomes. In fact, imprisonment for a non-violent offense can lead to future violent offenses.

For these reasons, groups of people who are currently of low socioeconomic status, who commit a lot of crime and face high levels of incarceration will likely have children who are in the same position. Because the past was indeed filled with systemic racism, the system was driven into state where blacks were faced with a disproportionate rate of poverty and incarceration.

Solving the Problem

Battling residual race dynamics is difficult, especially since it is important that doing so does not result in systemic racism. It would be fairly easy to reduce the residual by intentionally targeting whites and being lenient on black crime. However, such an action would be a policy which gives preferential treatment to one race over another, and which specifically harms a race in the process. It would be, by definition, systemic racism.

Ironically, the system appears to be biased in this way. Affirmative action is the intentional biasing of support based on race or other factors. When it comes to law enforcement, as I've mentioned before, police are actually less likely to use lethal force if the suspect is black than they are if the suspect is white. The latter may be attributed to a number of factors, but the former is biased practice based specifically on race. It is, by definition, systemic racism.

The solution then is to change the system in order to remove the feedback loops and direct the state of the system towards a more beneficial outcome as a whole. Better support systems for those in need, regardless of their background, would help lift people out of poverty. Since blacks are disproportionately of low socioeconomic status, these policies would disproportionately help blacks, but not in a way that constitutes systemic racism against anyone.

Pushing for better education for everyone, adding more support for at need people, all will go a long way to pulling everyone, and especially blacks, out of the hole. Moreover, because of the feedback loops, the process will become exponential. As more people in black communities become successful, the more they can do to help others.

Decriminalization of all non-violent acts and legalization all expression of rights is also key. While there are many examples, perhaps the most significant one is the war on drugs. This war has fueled incarceration rates for generations. Even many violent acts are the indirect result of the war on drugs. A lot of gang activity is drug related. A lot of murders are the product of drug trades gone bad. And going back to feedback loops, a lot of people who go to prison for selling drugs end up becoming hardened criminals.

In Summary

So long as race is a concept that humans know, there will likely be racism in the world. And there are plenty of individuals in the United States who are racist. Moreover, there are likely some remaining systemic racism in the United States. However, there has been continual progress made against ending systemic racism against blacks. What we are seeing in the United States is not a product of current systemic racism, but rather a residual effect resulting from feedback mechanisms. Trying to fight against systemic racism in modern America is futile, because it is not the problem that America is facing. What we must focus on is changing the state of race conditions. We can do so by focusing on improving socioeconomic conditions of those people who are most in need of help, and we must do so without creating new forms of systemic racism.

Further Reading

I mentioned that race does not appear to be the motivating factor for whether an officer fires at a suspect or not. The propensity to shoot or not, conditioned on the race of the suspect, is an viable indicator for the presence or absence of systemic racism in the law enforcement system.

Dynamical systems play an important role in the spread of epidemics. And i many ways racism is an epidemic. This article goes over some of the mathematics of infection spread, which of course is a very important topic of discussion right now.

Daniel Goldman
Daniel Goldman
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Daniel Goldman

Visit my homepage. I am a polymath and a rōnin scholar with interests in many areas, including political science, economics, history, and philosophy. I've been writing about all of these topics, and others, for the past two decades.

See all posts by Daniel Goldman